New dental program for low-income Islanders comes up short, says Opposition

·2 min read
'Any service that can be extended to provide services for people who can't currently access it is a good thing, it's just really hard when they've had to wait so long,' says Opposition MLA Hannah Bell.  (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
'Any service that can be extended to provide services for people who can't currently access it is a good thing, it's just really hard when they've had to wait so long,' says Opposition MLA Hannah Bell. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

The Prince Edward Island government released some details Friday about a new dental care program for low-income Islanders, but the Opposition says it's not enough and a year too late.

The government had previously announced it will spend $2.5 million over three years to enhance and expand dental care for low-income Islanders.

In a statement to CBC News Friday, a government spokesperson said the new provincial dental care program will combine several existing government programs, including dental treatment offered through the Department of Social Development and Housing for Islanders who receive social assistance, the Children's Dental Care Program and the Low-income Adult Dental Care Program.

The province said the new program will begin July 1 this year, and declined an interview, stating "there are still components of the program to be confirmed."

'A really important thing'

"It's great to see, obviously, the program is actually coming forward," said Hannah Bell, the Opposition critic for social development, housing and economic growth.

The Opposition called on the government for better dental coverage for Islanders without private dental insurance in last year's budget, and government did commit to it.

"The disappointment comes in that we actually asked for this a year ago — we're now in the next budget.... That's a really long time to wait when a commitment's been made," Bell said. She'd like to see the province start the program sooner than July 1, and make it a permanent commitment.

We know having good teeth is not just about being able to chew your food, it's also about your esteem. — Hannah Bell

The government has not committed as much money to the program as the Green Party asked, Bell points out —they want government to spend an additional $2.5 million per year.

"Remember that [Opposition leader] Peter Bevan-Baker in his previous life was a dentist, so we have some pretty solid information about the cost to deliver the program," Bell said.

Bell said about 30 per cent of Islanders do not have dental insurance. Low-income Islanders on social assistance are currently eligible for some dental care, but not preventative care such as cleanings, or fillings, she said.

"We hear a lot from people who have, for many reasons, not been able to take care of their teeth, and end up actually losing a large amount of their teeth because [extraction] is the only option that's available," Bell said. She said she hears a lot from seniors about their financial struggles to care for their teeth.

"We know having good teeth is not just about being able to chew your food, it's also about your esteem," she said. "It's a really important thing we can do for Islanders."

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